It happened in a round-about way. This morning we woke up early. “I can’t sleep.” “Me neither. Let’s go to the flea market.” It would have been the first time I had been there before ten. Prime time. But today there was no flea market. The cold has finally driven even the hardcore boothers away.
We walked on, to the grocery store. Even though I’m really excited to try out what I just learned from Hobo Stripper about making a toothbrush out of a small stick, we needed new toothbrushes and bread. The usual Saturday morning errands, preparations for Everything’s Closed Sunday. At the store I eyed the marked down fruits and vegetables and holiday chocolate. “If we get our asses out of bed tonight, we know what will be waiting for us…”
We walk this path often. Maybe four, five times a week. Maybe ten. It’s the way to the grocery stores, to the dumpsters, and to the post office. The sidewalk fringes rows of unpleasant-looking stucco houses. Quick post-war rebuilds, I imagine without knowing for sure.
Every time I walk this path I imagine the houses empty—apocalypse, emergency, plague—windows broken, ivy slowly stretching up the walls. I imagine that one or two of the houses are inhabited, and that the rest have been marked for plundering the building supplies needed elsewhere.
In a small black trash can next to the sidewalk was a wooden cassette rack, filled with cassettes. I walked into the driveway, lifted the lid and pulled it out. Out of habit. Below it was a bag with what I thought was an enormous candle, and some LPs. “There’s a lady looking at you from the window.” Oh. I took the cassette rack and the bag and let the lid fall closed behind me.
There were five Bruce Springsteen cassettes, a Madonna album that I’ll give away, and a Ghost Busters radio play. The rest I could record over. I looked in the bag. Nope, not a candle, but a huge pot-shaped mass of fat. “Sweet! Now I can try out candle making.” I think of the homemakers I’ve been reading about, making soap and candles from fat scrapped from pans and cut from meat. Had this bit been saved out of habit, because that’s what mom and grandma always did, but tossed for lack of an idea of what to do next?
“Did you see the lady’s face?”
“No, just her head.” I wondered how she had felt, seeing me in her driveway, in her trashcan. Perhaps she had felt annoyed, possessive. Maybe she was kicking herself for not getting that table at the flea market after all.
Later, I walked across the street to use the toilet. (The water in our bathroom wagon has been turned off for over a month. At first because several pipes froze and exploded, now because we don’t want them to explode again. “Little business” as the Germans euphemize peeing happens outside and “big business” across the street.) On the way back I cut through the trash collection corral. Holy shit. There was a big pile of blankets, witty little shirts in my size, unprinted shirts that I will screen print and sell, two fitted sheets (for the longest time we only had one and now we are teetering on exuberance), a fall jacket, and a sweet black velor jacket that has The Mad Scientist’s name written all over it. All piled dejected on the pavement. I boxed them up and took them home.
Last week someone threw out another kitchen, spices still full, leftovers from the previous night’s dinner still clinging to pan bottoms. I had just written a grocery list for the three-course dinner I made on Saturday night. I wasn’t sure where I was going to find algae flakes, but there was the obvious answer: in the dumpster across the street is where you’ll find them (as well as two bags of beans, rice paper, baking powder, and pudding mix).
But the winner of this week’s most curious find was the bag of dried lilies. What do you even do with dried lilies? Usually I complain when I find flowers in the trash. (Although they came in handy for the bridal bouquet.) “You can’t eat flowers!” I bitterly tell anyone who tries to tell me that at least they’re pretty. And now dried lily petals among the remnants of someone’s kitchen cabinets. I guess you can eat flowers after all.